Yoga for Runners: 3 poses to help your hamstrings

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Emilie SmithIf you're training for a fall race or marathon, chances are, you could use a little yoga. (And you have tight hamstrings.)

"Yoga’s not just about stretching yourself out like a sweater," says Emilie Smith, creator of Yoga for Athletes, which is offered at Equinox and Reebok Sports Club. "Yoga can improve running form, increase range of motion, and help prevent injuries. In the end, you’ll perform more efficiently," she explains.

Smith knows this first hand. She came to yoga as a runner, and developed her method to help athletic types just like her do yoga in a way that would complement and boost their training.

We asked her to identify the three most common issues that runners face—and how yoga can help. In this three-part series, she'll take you through a three-move yoga sequence to help address each one.

First up: Learn three easy moves to help tight, aching hamstrings...

—Lisa Elaine Held, Photos: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good

Emilie Smith1. Active Downward Dog

This first pose is a warm-up, which is really important before you move into poses you'll hold for a long time.

Start on your hands and knees with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and knees in line with your hips.

Plant your palms with your fingers spread, lift your knees, and push your heels towards the floor with your tailbone reaching towards the ceiling. Stay active in the pose for five to ten breaths by pedaling your feet from side to side, alternately lifting each leg back behind you, and moving your hips from side to side.


At the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, it's easy to train for a race while taking care of your body and avoiding injury. Get your runs in—rain, snow, or shine—on the indoor track, and complement your training with on-site yoga classes.

Emilie Smith2. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana) with Block

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place one foot on top of a block. Make sure your feet are parallel. Bend your knees and hinge forward from your hips with a flat back, moving your weight forward out of your heels.

Begin to straighten your legs, being careful not to round your back—use a block for your hands if you can't reach the floor. Stay here for one minute and then repeat on the opposite side.

Emilie Smith3. Reclined Hamstring Stretch

Lay on your back with your shoulders down and relaxed, your hips flat on the mat. Extend your left leg out with foot flexed. Bring the right knee into your chest and wrap the strap around the ball of the right foot.

Press your left leg into the mat as you lift the right leg straight up. Pull the strap towards your head to go deeper, but don't force it. If your hamstrings are super tight, keep a slight bend in the knee and be gentle as you stretch. Stay in this position for three to five minutes and then repeat on the opposite side.


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11 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. September 24th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I am a runner, and practice Yoga so it is good to know how the 2 can complement each other… and how to relieve aching hamstrings! Thank you for these helpful tips.

  2. September 24th, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Great article. Many Thanks. this is exactly what you need for running and recovering through yoga.

  3. September 24th, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I really liked the forward fold with block. I’ve never quite figured out how to use the block. Very helpful.

  4. September 25th, 2012 at 10:55 am

    This is totally appropriate for my students and facebook/twitter followers, but I’m finding the pictures load REALLY slowly. Can you fix?

  5. October 12th, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Hi I am a detective and private investigator from Mumbai, India. Yeah one of those rare female breeds in the Indian private investigation scene! As a long standing yoga practitioner, I think doing forward and backwards back bends are equally important such as chakrasana followed immediately by paschimottasana or halasana followed immediately by matsyasana. Most of the suggested yogic postures here only concentrate on the limbs whereas torso bends can relieve some of the more painful symptoms that runners face especially in the lower back. Cheers.

  6. October 18th, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I am a runner though not a professional one but i joined in small competitions. I usually have a problem on hamstring, maybe not enough time or not good enough warm-ups before the runs. I will try your YOGA poses, it might help me with my hamstring problem.

    Great article! Informative and useful indeed! Thanks a lot!

  7. October 25th, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Thanks so much for putting this cheat sheet together. The standing forward fold has become a staple for me post-run!

  8. October 25th, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I had the same issues as Carli when it came to the forward fold. A couple months ago, I was talking to a yoga instructor, and she told me the exact same thing about using blocks. It has made a world of difference.

  9. April 3rd, 2013 at 12:32 am

    This is exactly what I need! My family genes cursed me with short hamstrings, so they are always tight before or after any workout. I’m going to add these to my morning or post-workout yoga routines right away!

  10. April 11th, 2013 at 9:05 am

    This is great. I am tired of hobbling around like a 100 year old the day after I have gone for a run. I will give these yoga moves a go!

  11. April 18th, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Thank you so much for the tips. I actually got on the floor and started doing these poses during my lunch break and they are awesome. Not so much the funny looks that my coworkers were giving me. Whatever! If you got it, you gotta flaunt it! I wanted to add that I do a lot of lower back stretches from yoga and, as a runner, they help me a lot, too. Which ones would you recommend? I want to learn new ones.

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